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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Dork Jackie Kashian Got Her Stand-Up Start Heckling Sam Kinison in 1984

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 9:30 AM

MICHAEL HELMS
  • Michael Helms

Jackie Kashian is a stand-up comedian and dedicated dork. As a comedian, her act is sharp and warm, biting and personable. She talks about her Midwestern upbringing and salesman father; her marriage to a fellow dork and video game designer; and her current life in Los Angeles (a bit about L.A.'s "animal people" is a favorite).

Kashian is also the chief ranger of The Dork Forest, the podcast she hosts that showcases "dork-on-dork dialogue." Now in its sixth year, the show is one of the most popular and unusual in the infinitely expanding universe of comedian-hosted podcasts. On The Dork Forest, Kashian interviews fellow comedians as well as non-celebrity guests, focusing the conversation around her guests' "dorkdoms" -- special obsessions that may or may not fall within the bounds of traditional nerdiness.

Kashian spoke with us last week. She headlines at the Punch Line tonight (Wednesday, March 21) and Thursday, and she will also be the feature act for Eddie Pepitone this Friday and Saturday.

When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?

We never listened to stand-up when I was a kid or watched it. My father was a salesman, and we spent more time listening to [motivational speaker and get-rich-quick guru] Zig Ziglar. So I know how to sell the sizzle, not the steak. But I do have two early memories of stand-up comedy: One is being in my dad's car listening to the "Noah" bit by Bill Cosby. We listened to it on the way home from church one day. It seemed so subversive -- and yet, not -- and awesome. And the other [memory] was seeing Gallagher on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was standing in front of a giant couch. And I remember distinctly thinking to myself as a child, "That's cheating. Anyone could appear funny standing in front of a giant couch!"

But I didn't do stand-up until I went to college. I knew I wanted to perform, but I didn't even really know what that meant. There was a comedy club in the town where I went to college: Madison, Wisconsin. It was owned by Sam Kinison's brother, Bill. He opened the club underneath this pool hall and dirtbag bar. It was called the Comedy Cellar. So I was 19, and I went with friends. It was '84 and the drinking age was 18. And I proceeded to get completely hammered, and the first comic I ever saw was Sam Kinison, Bill's brother. It was right before he blew up. And I heckled him.

[laughter] ... How did that go?

Well, that's not going to go well. You don't want to heckle Sam Kinison in 1984. I was the crazy lady yelling at the comic, and he mopped the floor with me. But I wouldn't shut up. So six shots of tequila later, the manager came over and told me to shut up or he'd kick me out. And he sarcastically said, "Open mike is on Sunday." I came back three weeks later and did stand-up comedy for the first time.

So when you went back to the open mike, was that it?

I can't even remember anything after that except for stand-up comedy. I started doing open mike, and I got a 1.8 GPA that semester. That's what I remember about doing eight months of stand-up comedy at Bill Kinison's club. When I graduated from college, I tried to move to New York in 1988 or '89. But it was really hard. It was during that comedy boom time, and it was really hard to get into stand-up comedy in New York. And everyone always talks about how '89 was like the "golden age" of stand-up comedy. But I was there. I didn't feel too golden. So I moved to Minneapolis in '90 and did comedy there until '96, and then moved to Los Angeles in '97.

The Dork Forest logo
  • The Dork Forest logo

When you're not interviewing comedians or people you already know, how do you find guests for The Dork Forest?

Often, they find me. Or I'll get recommendations from fans or other people I know. I have a comic/writer friend who said, "You know, my friend has the largest collection of Planet of the Apes memorabilia." That [episode is] amazing, by the way. It's a Dork Expedition, recorded remotely. He's a character actor, Brian Peck. He owns the statue of The Lawgiver -- and the statue of Caesar [both featured in the original 1968 film Planet of the Apes]. Roddy McDowall gave him that. So he turned his garage into a Planet of the Apes museum. It's really awesome.

Besides comedy and comic books, what are your other dorkdoms?

I'm more of a dork chameleon. I'll dork out to whatever you want. Yesterday I played Magic with this guy. Magic is like a kind of board game, but with cards. And I do a lot of reading. I always have. I read science fiction and mysteries -- everything but horror.

Is there a special relationship between comedians and comic books? Patton Oswalt, Dana Gould, and Brian Posehn also often talk about comics.

And [Andy] Kindler, as well.

Right -- and some of them have written comics, too.

Yes, including Wyatt Cenac, who just had one come out.

Why is there a connection between the two mediums?

Comedy and comic books are both things that are followed by a very small percentage of the population. You can create your own comic book and it can be about anything. Stand-up comedy can also be about anything. You get to talk about whatever you want. And the repercussions are, the audience boos you, or you don't get rebooked -- or people love you and you get a lot of work -- or something in the middle.

A comic book can be about anything and the repercussions are that nine people don't buy it, but you still get to make your art, essentially. I like it because it feels like nobody's watching, so you might as well make the thing you want -- in both cases. They're both very "open-source."

Jackie Kashian appears March 21-22 at the Punch Line, 444 Battery (at Clay), S.F. She also is the featured act before Eddie Pepitone at the same venue. Admission is $15-$21.

Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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Casey Burchby

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